I heaved a hefty sigh because it had been four days without any contact from Katherine. I’d hoped she would have responded to me since I posed about meeting up a few days ago, then had felt immediately bad because I’d rushed getting to a point since there hadn’t been a gite available where I said I’d be. When I’d gotten wifi again, I’d emailed to tell her I was in Cahors, but the day after that, still nothing.
I had to wonder if it had been something I’d said or done, of course, if just for those few childish seconds. Everybody likes to be liked (more or less), and I was beginning to second guess my capabilities at being a normal human being now that I was out on the road alone without my books and video games to protect me. Perhaps I made too many geeky references and my ridiculous personality point of being blunt/honest wasn’t taken as great as I’d thought.
Maybe they’d seen my blog and thought, “Ooooooooooooooooookay, going to just leave that one there…”
The obvious option is because she herself didn’t have internet, but I still went through a swift list of things that I may have said or done because it is well known about me that I never seem to be able to keep my foot in my mouth when I should, nor a good solid brick on my hands while typing away like they’re dancing a samba. My mouth and fingers seem to run away with themselves when I want to say something, so it was quite possible I had been misinterpreted over what I’d considered a joke.
Ah, good ol’ insecurities. It’s been such a long time. Like being wrapped in a warm blanket next to the hearth, only to stomp out all of the flames that came from the fire since you leaned too close.
I can’t say it didn’t sting a little to not have any contact from Katherine or Ludo (although I didn’t expect anything from Ludo until he got back on the trail) during the time from whence we parted. I understood that we were all honestly doing our own thing at this point, me especially. I couldn’t seem to stop walking, even when I contemplated not going so far. I had no idea how much distance there was between Katherine and I at this point. And I had to be okay with the idea that I may not see her, or Ludo, for a very long time, if at all.
I’d thought about that a lot, while walking for the week without the both of them. While I’d finally started to understand what Sergo meant by “That’s the Camino, baby!”, I was still feeling pangs of wishing the lot of everyone I’d seen were still passing each other as we walked our own Way. Something had seemed to change since Figeac, and I couldn’t put my finger on it.
It wasn’t as if I hadn’t met anyone new, either.
Aina was the most constant. She and I kept finding each other at random gites, and since we both knew English far better than French (although I am practicing as much as I can with my new phone app!), we would sit and talk during dinners, both holding mimicking expressions if someone were to ask us something in French that we didn’t fully understand.
She told me some of the funniest stories I’d heard along the trek, one of them being from when she was a student in her own French class.
You see, her professor had a mistress, so whenever they would gather for class, he would simply put on some French music and leave to meet with her instead of teaching the class French.
But it gets better.
He took the class to France, wherein no one knew French since he hadn’t been teaching them it, left them to be with his mistress, and they were left to fend for themselves in a foreign country.
“At one point,” she said, “we were at a restaurant trying to figure out what was on the menu. We kept asking the waiter who didn’t know English, and he kept pointing at his head, over and over again, saying the same words over and over again. We thought he was calling us stupid, and we thought it was so mean! We later found out that he was trying to tell us that we were eating brains.”
I hadn’t laughed like that for a good few days.
Aina loved to travel, so she had multiple stories to tell from all over the lands, even if she didn’t understand the language. It made me feel more comfortable with traveling anywhere else to know I wasn’t a complete fool to see the world even if I didn’t know the languages they used.
She got me thinking about achievements and how much we take upon ourselves to certain breaking points.
While eating lunch on one of those days, we were talking about what we were doing on the trek and what we hoped to get from it. I’m unsure if Aina knew what she wanted right away, but she knew she had taken the walk because of her quitting her own job. I hadn’t been aware of this since the last thing she’d said to another about her job was that she taught elementary students.
She had some problematic students that she did her best to go above and beyond to take care of to stop bullying and class behavior, and she had been blamed for not doing even more from happening. In a group meeting in front of everyone.
A teacher. Being blamed for the behavior of a student. By the parents. Who weren’t taking any responsibility.
I wasn’t shocked that this had happened, but more that I was genuinely surprised that this was something that happened in Sweden for some reason. In Japan, it is common that the teacher takes a special interest in their students from Homeroom as if they were their own, such as punishing them if they get in extra trouble outside of the class. I was always fascinated by this idea since there always seemed to be a line of where it isn’t the responsibility of the teacher anymore, or that the parents at least have to be involved.
Either way, this information had me slightly upset because in the small amount of time I knew Aida, I knew that she was a hardworking woman who didn’t give up so easily. She had four children and was divorced, taking care of them all on her own. She was a stone.
And it had her upset to talk about it.
I realized, not for the first time, the difference between thinking something and saying it outloud to share. You could think of something as a fact for such a long time that it doesn’t bother you if it crosses your mind ever again. But the sudden emotion that comes through when you say the words out loud just goes to show that you need a bit more than thinking for days straight.
Talking about something makes it real.
I took her hand and told her to her face, looking her straight in the eye, that she was a very strong woman, and that she had done everything that she could have done.
She went on to say that that was when she decided to leave her job, and she wasn’t quite she where she’d go from here, if she would even keep on teaching. Always a terrifying thought. Except particularly scary when you have a house and bills to pay.
I found it brave to quit in her position. Being a teacher is never easy, but knowing your limits and what you are capable of, AND standing up to say ‘that’s unfair’ is very admirable. What’s sad is that while they’ve lost a good teacher, the problematic student is still there, causing a ruckus. It gives a twist to what we believe in as people and what we tolerate as a society.
I told Aina about my sadness of parting with everyone I had originally started with, and how, while not completely lonely, different of an experience trekking every day was when you’ve only got your mind to keep you company. I was doing a lot of second guessing on my thought processes. Not about the trek or quitting my own job or anything of that sort, but more of just running circles in what I was thinking. It felt nice to bounce ideas off of people, ask opinions and take it all into consideration. There’s a lot of trust involved when you’re only going with your own brain.
For instance, for one whole day, I contemplated the idea of being liked, how that idea is nurtured in families and society. It became a convoluted idea, going from how I’d honestly not given a fuck if you’d liked me while growing up if you weren’t a kind person and watching these other people wanting nothing more than to be noticed while being degraded by those same people they vied attention from, to the interesting idea of how attraction works in such a way that some people want to be liked so much, they stay in abusive relationships. I wondered about taking psychology classes to really understand how different everybody can be in these situations of friendship and love, and I questioned whether there was ever a correct way of thinking, but rather that there were several healthy options to choose from instead.
I also couldn’t seem to get the chorus of Alice’s Restaurant out of my head, and it would bust down the doors to my thinking process just as I’d think “I’m getting somewhere with this idea!”
Aida told me that when she had spoken to a friend about walking, he had told her that, when you first start out, you will be thinking about the past. It is all you can think about until, finally, there is nothing left to pick at. Then, you’ll start thinking about the future.
It makes sense. As you walk, and you’re alone, you pick apart everything you know. What else is there to do but look at the past, as if it were a tape on loop, until there isn’t much else to look at. You’ve taken it all, made sense of what you could, and eventually you let go of what you can’t. It is only possibilities from there on out. What kind of future you want to make for yourself.
And I knew that was part of my problem. I hadn’t really seen myself past this point of quitting the job I didn’t want and being able to travel and write. Perhaps I was stuck because the small goal I’d accumulated along the way was to at least enjoy the company of Kath and Ludo while I figured that out.
I don’t think anyone I met along The Way thought they’d be making this much of an impact on me.
But the more people I meet, the more I see how this isn’t a personal thing, but a Camino thing, just as Sergo said. Paces are different. Weather makes choices for you, sometimes. Timing is everything.
Fanny had told me, that one night, that I needed to seek out the Frenchmen, make it happen if they were so important. And I think she was right, to a point. But it was the moment I let go and said, “If it happens, it happens. Let’s focus on the now.” that I connected back up with Sergo and Ludo, just when I needed them.
When I asked Aina how she had heard about The Camino, she said she’d contacted someone to hear about what it was. They man on the other line was very enthusiastic, supportive to the last breath that this was what she needed to do to change her life.
“I say, ‘What if there isn’t a gite available for the night?’ and he says, ‘Don’t worry, the Camino will find you something.’ I say, ‘What if I go the wrong way and get lost?’ and he says, ‘Don’t worry. You can make a mistake, and it all leads right back to the trail.'” No matter what she questioned or said, he always replied that the Camino had a way of working these things out in your favor. You’d find your Way.
I couldn’t get over these words she was told. It felt so full of possibilities, that you were meant to make mistakes and figure things out because it didn’t matter, as long as you kept going.
And now I better understand why every single person I meet tells me Bon Camino with that look on their faces. I thought it was just pure kindness, but it has an additional look of knowing that I’m doing something special, a place where I can play around in to really make sure I know who I am and what my capabilities are. The only limit was myself.
Gods help me, I’m getting all ZomboCom on here. WHAT HAS FRANCE DONE TO ME?!
It has made me back into the hopeless romantic for the world I thought I’d lost after college.
It’s kind of an addicted feeling. You get up, you eat, then you prepare to walk a certain amount of distance, to see everything, hear everything, right in front of you. You never want it to stop.
It’s like being in love.
You just can’t stop smiling.